Costilla County ranch $35K grant to conserve more than 1,400 acres

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COSTILLA COUNTY — The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) board awarded a $35,000 grant through Keep It Colorado to Colorado Open Lands to conserve the Chris and Carol Kester Ranch, a multigenerational working ranch in Costilla County.

The grant is part of Keep It Colorado’s Transaction Cost Assistance Program (TCAP), which re-grants GOCO funds to nonprofit land trusts to help cover the costs associated with conservation easement transactions. It enables landowners who have urgent opportunities to conserve their properties, but who face financial barriers to facilitating the transaction, to conserve land more quickly.

Kester Ranch is 85% irrigated, supplied by both senior surface water rights and groundwater. The ranch owners, who are in the process of transitioning much of the ranch management to their daughter, have stewarded the ranch land and its water to support important wetlands and habitat for sandhill cranes and other wildlife. 

Leveraging both the conservation easement tax credit and Natural Resources Conservation Service funding, the project will not only protect 1,471 acres of productive agricultural lands and wetland habitat, but also guarantees that water supporting both economic and ecological functions will remain in the San Luis Valley. Its protection provides connectivity from the 172,000-acre conserved Trinchera Ranch in the upper watershed across the valley floor to the mainstem of the Rio Grande. 

“This is an incredible property that provides a critically important home for wildlife and agriculture in the San Luis Valley. We are honored to support the Kester family in their vision to protect this special place,” said Tony Caligiuri, president of Colorado Open Lands.

“With this assistance, GOCO and Keep It Colorado ease the financial burden on landowners who’ve voluntarily chosen to conserve their land, protecting critical landscapes that make Colorado so special,” said Linda Lidov, interim executive director of Keep It Colorado. “We’re grateful to Chris and Carol Kester for making the decision to protect this land for generations to come.”

To date, GOCO has invested more than $6.4 million in projects in Costilla County and partnered to conserve more than 27,100 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported SLV Generation Wild, one of 12 Generation Wild communities in Colorado, as well as the Brownie Hills acquisition, Fort Garland Park project, Costilla County Outdoor Fitness Center and Exercise Park, and Rio Grande recreation and habitat conservation efforts, among other projects. 

Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces.

GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,600 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org, for more information.

Keep It Colorado serves as a unified voice for conservation organizations focused on private lands conservation, and does so by bringing together land trusts, public agencies and conservation champions around a vision to create a Colorado where people, lands, waters and wildlife thrive.

Keep It Colorado advocates for sound public policy; provides connection and collaboration opportunities for conservation partners; offers a forum to address emerging conservation issues and opportunities; pursues sustainable funding and programmatic tools and solutions; and works to advance a culture of conservation in Colorado. Learn more at www.keepitco.org.